Excerpts from the book ‘Key To Health‘ Written by: M. K. Gandhi


Whilst it is true that man cannot live without air and water, the thing that nourishes the body is food. Hence the saying, food is life. 

Food can be divided into three categories: vegetarian, flesh and mixed. Flesh foods include fowl and fish. Milk is an animal product and cannot by any means be included in a strictly vegetarian diet. It serves the purpose of meat to a very large extent.

In medical language it is classified as animal food. A layman does not consider milk to be animal food. On the other hand, eggs are regarded by the layman as a flesh food. In reality, they are not. Nowadays sterile eggs are also produced.

The hen is not allowed to see the cock and yet it lays eggs. A sterile egg never develops into a chick. Therefore, he who can take milk should have no objection to taking sterile eggs. 


Medical opinion is mostly in favour of a mixed diet, although there is a growing school, which is strongly of the opinion that anatomical and physiological evidence is in favour of man being a vegetarian.

His teeth, his stomach, intestines, etc. seem to prove that nature has meant man to be a vegetarian. 

Vegetarian diet, besides grains, pulses, edible roots, tubers and leaves, includes fruits, both fresh and dry. Dry fruit includes nuts like almonds, pistachio, walnut etc.


I have always been in favour of pure vegetarian diet. But experience has taught me that in order to keep perfectly fit, vegetarian diet must include milk and milk products such as curd, butter, ghee, etc. This is a significant departure from my original idea. I excluded milk from my diet for six years.

At that time, I felt none the worse for the denial. But in the year 1917, as a result of my own ignorance, I was laid down with severe dysentery.

I was reduced to a skeleton, but I stubbornly refused to take any medicine and with equal stubbornness refused to take milk or buttermilk.

But I could not build up my body and pick up sufficient strength to leave the bed. I had taken a vow of not taking milk.

A medical friend suggested that at the time of taking a vow, I could have had my mind only the milk of the cow and buffalo; why would the vow prevent me from taking goat’s milk?

My wife supported him and I yielded. Really speaking, for one who has given up milk, though at the time of taking the vow only the cow and the buffalo were in mind, milk should be taboo. All animal milks have practically the same composition, though the proportion of the components varies in each case.

So I may be said to have kept merely the letter, not the spirit, of the vow. Be that as it may, goat’s milk was produced immediately and I drank it.

It seemed to bring me new life. I picked up rapidly and was soon able to leave the bed. On account of this and several similar experiences, I have been forced to admit the necessity of adding milk to the strict vegetarian diet.

But I am convinced that in the vast vegetable kingdom there must be some kind, which, while supplying those necessary substances which we derive from milk and meat, is free from their drawbacks, ethical and other.

In my opinion there are definite drawbacks in taking milk or meat.

In order to get meat we have to kill. And we are certainly not entitled to any other milk except the mother’s milk in our infancy.

Over and above the moral drawback, there are others, purely from the point of view of health. Both milk and meat bring with them the defects of the animal from which they are derived. Domesticated cattle are hardly ever perfectly healthy.

Just like man, cattle suffer from innumerable diseases.

Several of these are over-looked even when the cattle are subjected to periodical medical examinations. Besides, medical examination of all the cattle in India seems to be an impossible feat, at any rate for the present. I am conducting a dairy at the Sevagram Ashram.

I can easily get help from medical friends. Yet I cannot say with certainty that all the cattle in the Sevagram Dairy are healthy. On the contrary, a cow that had been considered to be healthy by everybody was found to be suffering from tuberculosis.

Before this diagnosis was made, the milk of that cow had been used regularly in the Ashram. The Ashram also takes milk from the farmers in the neighbourhood.

Their cattle have not been medically examined. It is difficult to determine whether a particular specimen of milk is safe for consumption or not.

We have to rest content with as much safety as boiling of the milk can assure us of. If the Ashram cannot boast of fool-proof medical examination of its cattle, and be certain of the safety of its dairy products, the situation elsewhere is not likely to be much better.

What applies to the milk cattle applies to a much greater extent to the animals slaughtered for meat. As a general rule, man just depends upon luck to escape from such risks.

He does not seem to worry much about his health. He considers himself to be quite safe in his medical fortress in the shape of doctors, vaids and hakims.

His main worry and concern is how to get wealth and positive in society. This worry overshadows all the rest.

Therefore, so long as some selfless scientist does not, as a result of patient research work, discover a vegetable substitute for milk and meat, man will go on taking meat and milk.